What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A handsome English made Phaeton, two Curricles in good order, two Chairs &c.”
William Tod, “Coach-Maker from London,” sold several kinds of wheeled conveyances, including carriages, chairs, curricles, and phaetons, to Philadelphia’s elite. Only the affluent could afford to purchase a coach, maintain the horses to pull it, and pay servants with specialized skills to drive the coach and care for the horses. When Tod spoke of “Gentlemans carriages” he was not extending a courtesy title to all possible customers regardless of their status; instead, he knew that his potential customers possessed wealth and renown in the colony.
Even though only a fraction of the readers of the Pennsylvania Journal could afford to purchase some sort of coach, they chose from a broad array of options to suit their tastes and budgets. According to Colonial Williamsburg, more than a dozen varieties of wheeled carriages traveled the streets of Virginia in the eighteenth-century: berlins, calishes, chairs, chaises, chariots, coaches, coaches, curricles, gigs, landaus, landaulets, phaetons, post-chaises, post-chariots, sociable, stage wagons, sulkies, and whiskies. Elite residents of Philadelphia likely purchased a similar array of coaches.
Among those advertised by Tod, a curricle was a light two-wheeled carriage usually drawn by two horses and a phaeton was a four-wheeled open carriage of light construction, with one or two seats facing forward, usually drawn by a pair of horses. Chair and chaise could be used interchangeably with each other and often with a variety of other types of carriages. In offering these definitions in “Wheeled Carriages in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” Mary R.M. Godwin notes that these definitions come from the Oxford English Dictionary. During the eighteenth-century, however, colonists sometimes differed on the exact specifications that distinguished one sort of coach from another. Variety and innovation meant that names and descriptions had some fluidity. Much as modern consumers customize cars when they purchase them, colonial consumers could work with coachmakers like Tod to design carriages that suited their needs and desires.